September 5, 2012: My first risotto! I figured it would be best to add the mushrooms at the beginning, then stir in the sherry. This would give the wine time to cook. After a few minutes of stirring, the liquid was indeed being absorbed, so I began the process of adding broth to the risotto and stirring until it was absorbed. I'd worried that the first addition of broth wouldn't be absorbed into the rice. After a little more than ten minutes of slow stirring it looked as though the level of liquid was indeed decreasing. However, I still turned up the heat from "lowest" to a low simmer, at about 3 on the 1-to-10 dial. This was enough to make it bubble, just barely, when I stopped stirring for a few seconds. This had a much more noticeable effect, and the risotto finally began to thicken. The aroma had been heavy with the wine, but now the scent of the rice was beginning to take over. I'd kept my broth heating in the saucepan, and I was finally able to add my second helping of broth to the risotto after about twenty minutes. (Some risotto recipes claim the entire risotto can be finished and ready to serve in 15 to 20 minutes. Dream on.) The rice was definitely expanding, and at this point it was now necessary to stir the rice constantly and slowly, to keep it from cooking too quickly. Finally, after a total of about 35 minutes of stirring, the rice was creamy (al dente) and ready to mix in with butter and parmesan cheese. (Fun fact: Germans have a specific word for it: schlotzig, for the "schlotz" sound it makes when it drips off a wooden spoon.) As soon as I stirred in the butter, the risotto gave of a wonderful aroma – now, at last, I could see why people love it! And with the final addition of parmesan cheese to the mixture, I was proud to see that I had successfully cooked risotto.
Pans needed: 3-quart saucepan to heat liquid, 5-quart pot to prepare the rice. A wide, shallow pan with a lot of surface space is best, to allow the liquid to evaporate.
In a 3-quart saucepan with a lid, add broth and heat just to simmering. Keep warm. Bring the sherry to room temperature, and keep it aside in a cup or bowl.
While the broth is heating, add olive oil to a 5-quart cast iron dutch oven over medium heat, and sautee the aromatics (shallots, garlic, thyme, bay leaf) until they soften, change color and release their flavor. Add rice and stir. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the grains are coated in fat translucent around the edges. Be careful not to allow the grains to brown. Stir in mushrooms and mix it all together.
Reduce heat to a low. Add the wine. Stir slowly and continuously, until the liquid is completely absorbed into the rice. Once absorbed, raise the heat back up to a low simmer. Begin adding broth to the rice, a little at a time. Add enough broth just to cover the rice and continue stirring gently, but occasionally – the rice does not need to be stirred constantly, but enough to allow the liquid to be absorbed into the rice. The rice needs to be kept at a gentle simmer, not boiling. Adjust the heat enough to make it bubble, just barely, when you stop stirring for a few seconds. It should take approximately 35 to 40 minutes for all of the liquid to be absorbed.
This is important: you do not have to add all of the broth if you feel the rice is sufficiently cooked.
After the last addition of liquid has been mostly absorbed, add any other ingredients you may be using (some folks like to cook sausage and add it to the risotto) and stir until risotto is creamy. When the risotto reaches al dente, it will move in a wave-like motion as you stir it; but the grains will still be slightly firm. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. After butter has melted in, stir in the cheese. Taste and then season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.